Billionaire-backed KoBold says open to partners as it plans $2bn Zambian copper mine

6th February 2024 By: Reuters

CAPE TOWN – KoBold Metals, a California-based metals exploration company backed by billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, said it may consider partnerships as it plans to fast-track development of a new copper mine in Zambia that could cost about $2-billion.

The Silicon Valley start-up, which uses artificial intelligence to search for copper, cobalt, nickel and lithium could also consider listing its shares publicly in the next three-to-four years, Josh Goldman, its co-founder and president, told Reuters.

While KoBold initially said it plans to build a new mine at its Mingomba project in Zambia within the decade, those plans are now being brought forward in the rush to meet increasing demand for critical metals, Goldman said.

"We're on track to do it fast and it's going to be one of the highest grade, large copper mines," Goldman said on the sidelines of the African Mining Indaba.

"We will make it quicker than ten years. We continue to move fast and that the pace that we're moving at is with the accelerator firmly on the floor."

KoBold said the Mingomba deposit, where more exploration is still underway has copper ore grades of about 5%, placing its quality alongside that of Ivanhoe Mines' Kakula deposit in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The quality of the ore body could make Mingomba the highest grade Zambian discovery in 100 years, KoBold said.

KoBold is backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate and technology fund whose other backers include Virgin Group's Richard Branson and Bridgewater Associates' Ray Dalio.

Mine development, including sinking of shafts, could start around 2027, Mfikeyi Makayi, the CEO for KoBold Metals Africa, told Reuters.

The Zambian mine could require an estimated $2 billion investment though existing infrastructure from other operators on the central African copperbelt could help reduce the capital requirement, Goldman said.

"The issue globally, is not a lack of availability of capital. It is a lack of availability of high quality projects and where there are returns, there is capital," Goldman said.

"For a great project, there will be capital."

The race to build the new mine is as the US is stepping up efforts to find alternative sources of supply of critical metals such as copper, cobalt, lithium and nickel. The metals are key to helping the transition to clean energy and to accelerate growth in battery electric vehicles.

KoBold is also open to partnerships in Zambia and at its other projects elsewhere, Goldman said, declining to say if the company is in any negotiations currently.

KoBold searches for critical metals with BHP and Rio Tinto at projects in Australia and Canada.

"There's interest from financing parties and there's interest from all types of parties in the (Mingomba) project," he said. "We are receptive to conversations about all kinds of different partnerships."